Saving lives through prevention

Taking control of cancer doesn’t just mean extending survival and improving quality of life. It also means investing in research to better prevent cancer so that fewer people hear the words “you have cancer.”

In 2019, the ComPARe study, funded by our Partner Prevention Research Grant, found that about 4 in 10 cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the health of Canadians. The study also provided valuable information on the most significant preventable causes of cancer to help inform and target future prevention research and policies.

Here are just a few of the ways CCS-funded research on cancer prevention has had an impact on saving lives:

CCS-funded research has uncovered a treatment to help reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk women. 

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian women, affecting 1 in 8 women in her lifetime. In a practice-changing study published in 2011, the CCS-funded Canadian Cancer Trials Group showed that the hormone therapy exemestane significantly reduced the occurrence of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women who were at increased risk for developing the disease. People who took exemestane were 65% less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who received a placebo.

Thanks to this research, postmenopausal women now have more options to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.

Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) increases the risk of more than 6 different cancers, including cervical and head and neck cancers. Thanks to research, we now have vaccines to protect against HPV infection and prevent these cancers, including virtually all cases of cervical cancer.

Shortly after provinces started implementing HPV vaccination programs for school-aged girls, CCS-funded researcher Dr Aisha Lofters and her team began following a cohort of students in Ontario to study the early effects of the vaccine. They found that HPV vaccination reduced the risk of precancerous cervical growths by more than 40%, clearly demonstrating the early benefits of HPV vaccination. Today, we know from the ComPARe study that virtually all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with HPV vaccination.

Work by researchers Dr Jeffrey Hoch and Dr Wanrudee Isaranuwatchai at the CCS-funded Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control also demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of HPV vaccination in boys to prevent head and neck and other cancers. This evidence led to the expansion of public-funded HPV vaccination programs to children of all genders so that more cancers can be prevented.

Research made possible by CCS has led to progress in reducing rates of smoking tobacco, the leading cause of cancer in Canada responsible for 3 in 10 cancer deaths. Globally, tobacco use accounts for 1 in 4 cancer deaths. CCS-funded researchers Dr Geoffrey Fong and Dr David Hammond are world leaders in research on tobacco control. Their work on warning labels on cigarette packages and effective tobacco control policies has paved the way for stronger policies aimed at reducing tobacco use and saving lives around the world.

Most people who smoke tobacco start in adolescence or young adulthood, which is why we invested in critical research to understand smoking behaviour in youth and protect their health.

  • The CCS-funded Nicotine Dependence in Teens study has been following cohorts of high school students since 1999 to understand why teens start smoking. Using data from this study, lead researcher Dr Jennifer O’Loughin and her team developed a short survey that doctors can use to identify youth who are likely to start smoking in the next year. This tool is helping doctors and families intervene early to prevent addiction before it starts.
  • CCS-funded researchers Dr Steve Manske and Dr Leia Minaker found that over half of Canadian youth tobacco users use flavoured tobacco products. Their findings were used by federal and provincial governments in their decisions to ban and restrict the sale of flavoured tobacco products, protecting the health of young people across the country.
  • The earlier a person stops smoking tobacco, the greater the health benefits down the road. However, most smoking cessation programs are targeted towards older adults. With CCS support, Dr Bruce Baskerville and Dr Rebecca Haines-Saah created programs specifically designed to help young smokers quit. These programs use social media and apps to engage directly with young people, improving the odds of success.

CCS-supported research is shedding light on ways to reduce the burden of ovarian cancer, which is both hard to detect and hard to treat. 

Despite its name, most ovarian cancers actually start in the fallopian tube that connects the ovary to the uterus. Dr Gillian Hanley and Dr David Huntsman found that surgery to remove the fallopian tubes, and therefore reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, was safe and did not result in more complications compared to routine gynecological operations. This surgical practice change has been endorsed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and similar organizations around the world. It has the potential to save countless people from an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Dr Joanne Kotsopoulos and her team studied women who had mutations in the BRCA gene, which puts them at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. They identified a number of different factors, such as breastfeeding and using oral contraceptives, that could help reduce cancer risk in these women, providing valuable information to help people manage their health.